Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller), he of the famed “Blue Steel” pose, has been the biggest thing in male modelling for the past few years, gracing magazine covers and billboards with his “really really really good looks”, walking down the runways around the world and attending the trendiest parties with the hippest celebrities. Yet now trouble is nigh, with not only the hot new kid on the block Hansel (Owen Wilson) threatening to steal his thunder and a Time reporter (Christine Taylor) making him look like an idiot in an article but also evil designer Jacobim Mugatu (Will Ferrell) who brainwashes him into assassinating the prime minister of Malaysia to stop him from stopping child labour and henceforth putting clothes factories into jeopardy.
Written like that, it sounds as if “Zoolander” is quite a complex story, but all these plotlines merely feel like after-thoughts. The spin on the “Manchurian Candidate” premise, for instance, is little more than an excuse to move from a more-or-less-comic set piece to another. It’s based on a 5 minute bit Ben Stiller did for the 1996 VH1 Fashion Awards which satirically confirmed the general impression that models are “vain, stupid and incredibly self-centered”. The character of Derek Zoolander epitomises these traits, and it’s funny enough… for a while. But when that single joke is stretched to 90 minutes, it gets mighty tedious. Less than halfway though I was checking my watch in boredom and wondering how if there was much more to go.
Stiller, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed, is no hack (I thought his previous “The Cable Guy” was a vastly underrated dark comedy), but his film is nonetheless generic, uneven and self-indulgent. Stiller gives way too much screen time to his wife Christine Taylor, who has the thankless role of the “serious” chick reporter always conveniently around to handle the plot exposition and serve as a love interest out of the blue. Ben also cast his dad Jerry Stiller (Frank Costanza in “Seinfeld”) to more success, as the old guy scores a couple of big laughs with some dubious material. Also shining through is Will Ferrell, who always manages to make me laugh. He’s been the best thing about “Saturday Night Live” for the past decade, and he’s hilarious here as a maniacal Bond villain of a designer with goofy white curls akin to his pet poodle’s. Owen Wilson also has his moments as another variation on the neo-hippie/surfer dude he’s been playing in every movie lately. As for Stiller himself, he’s not bad, but this is just such a one note performance… Derek’s vain, stupid and incredibly self-centered, alright, we get it, enough already!
All in all, I can’t recommend “Zoolander”. I enjoyed bits and parts of it, but they’re lost in an endless string of dumb & dumber jokes, pointless cameos (I don’t think Vince Vaughn has a single line), 80s pop montages and half-clever spoofs (2001, The Godfather…). There really isn’t much to the film which couldn’t fit in a 2 minute trailer.